Best of the Bunch

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central LibraryStaff Picks

Best of the Bunch

Some of 2013's best cookbooks

This year was a bumper crop of stellar cookbooks. I’ve put together a brief list of some of my favorites and, of course, my biases come through.

I love ethnic food and I’m becoming more and more fascinated with inventive and imaginative vegetarian cuisine. Below are six of the best cookbooks that were published in 2013.

SpainJeff Koehler’s Spain: Recipes and Traditions From the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalucia is a tour de force of Spanish cuisine in all its variations.

The book is divided into chapters by food-type -- shellfish, eggs, meats, etc. -- and highlights recipes from each region for said ingredients. Beautiful photographs fill the book and Koehler spotlights essential Iberian ingredients throughout.

Having recently visited Spain where each day was a culinary revelation – this book makes me want to return now!

Every Grain of RiceFuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking is one of the best introductions to Chinese cooking I have seen in a while. Chinese cooking can be intimidating on many levels from difficult to obtain ingredients to foreign ways of preparation.

Fuchsia has written a book that presents the healthy aspects of Chinese cooking focusing heavily on vegetables but not eliminating beef, chicken and pork. The book starts with a wonderful section on the basics explaining in detail the essential ingredients, methods of preparation, equipment and menu planning.

Pok PokAndy Ricker is arguably one of the most recognizable names when it comes to authentic Thai food in America. His flagship restaurant Pok Pok in Portland, Ore., has been written about more times than you can shake a long stalk of lemongrass at.

Pok Pok: Food and Stories From the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand
is bursting with many of the recipes that have made his restaurant(s) so memorable. These recipes are the real deal and may require a full day shopping for many of the difficult-to-obtain ingredients.

Thankfully, Ricker provides detailed explanations of key ingredients and mail-order sources.

This is a must read for any fan of Thai cuisine and culture.

Vegetable LiteracyTwo of the grande dames of the food movement returned this year with truly inspiring and inventive books focusing on vegetarian cooking. The first is Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening With Twelve Families From the Edible Plant Kingdom, With Over 300 Deliciously Simple RecipesMadison’s beautifully photographed book is nothing short of encyclopedic. She groups like vegetables into twelve family categories and provides information on their varieties, care, preparation, as well as many spectacular recipes.

Heart of the PlateThe second is Mollie Katzen’s The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.

Katzen is best known as the author of the classic Moosewood cookbook, which was published in 1977 and revised in 1992. While not as in-depth as Madison’s book, Katzen’s book is full of uncomplicated recipes focusing on fresh ingredients often with an international twist. She provides a nice section on vegetarian and vegan menu planning.

One Good DishFinally, One Good Dish by New York Times columnist David Tanis focuses on just that: Instead of worrying about an elaborate three-course meal, focus on one good dish. Tanis’s volume contains seductively easy to prepare recipes for snacks, condiments, sandwiches and “pleasures in a bowl."

The book has some standouts including waffle-iron grilled cheese which, in the middle of the current Polar Vortex, sounds just about right.

These are only six of what was really a standout year for cookbooks. Check out the library’s collection for other amazing titles. Here’s to 2014 and a lot more to come!
- S. McDermott